Many new Web Hosting companies and even older veteran companies constantly are looking for the best way to support clients. Many have tried various forms of contact and each provides different forms of success and problems.

AIM, MSN, ICQ, and etc.:
Instant Messaging, itís an answer to instantaneous support and help, or is it? While many smaller companies seem to like this form of contact I highly discourage it. I really donít think initiating chats with customers is a good idea. I have see where the customer begins to abuse that "relationship" and they won't leave you alone. Before long you will dread coming online as hundreds of customers are contacting you.

I did online support over ICQ once (while helping a friend do tech support). I would literally sign on for 2 seconds to get the 30 or so messages and sign back off. I did this so I could start sorting through them one by one. If I stayed online longer than 2 seconds I would get bombarded by even more support requests.

If youíre using AIM/MSN/ICQ and youíre not experiencing this problem donít wait too long before looking into other alternatives. While this may work fine for a few hosts, once you get into about 1000 or more, the problem level begins to increase. We began to get even more complaints that our support team was never online. It wasnít that we werenít answering the support questions on a timely manner. We would respond back to the customer on a timely fashion however we wouldnít appear to be online.

Remember, if a customer sees that you offer support through instant messaging, they will expect to be able to contact you anytime they need you. If youíre not available when they need you, youíre customers will begin to loose trust in you.

Phone Support:
Great idea provided you have the man power and financial stability to provide this service. I donít care who you are, when problems arise and all else fails where is that contact phone number!!!!! How many of you use phone support of any sort? Itís extremely helpful however can be costly to maintain. If you have 30 customers, yeah one phone line might cut it, however what do you do when you get 1000? Hopefully by then your office staff has grown and you will have more finances to provide this service to your customers. Will this work for your company? That all depends on what resources you have available.

Forums and F.A.Q:
I would have to say the best form of support you can offer is a well documented F.A.Q. The more information you can provide your customer in solving their own problem, the better off you will be. Provide tutorials on how work the various portions of your site. If possible provide PDF and HTML versions. If you can afford to higher someone or do it yourself make a flash tutorial of your site. Getting this information in your clients hands will the best step and cutting down how much support you will need.

Support Forums are a good idea provided you can respond to their questions and concerns in a timely fashion. Even if this means contacting them by e-mail or on the forum to actually let them know youíre working on their problem. Template response e-mails are nice, but by the 2nd or 3rd time they submit a problem they will catch on the response is automatically generated. Personal responses mean the entire world to your customer. The feeling that real person is actually receiving their response and the satisfaction it is getting worked on as they read that e-mail will boost their confidence. Remember how you feel when you get one of those annoying automated responses letting you know your problem is being looked into.

Support Doís and Doníts:
Treat your clients with respect and make them feel like they are your #1 customer. Do by no means let them push you around and demand insane requests. You don't want to let them take advantage of you and your services. You need to be firm with them and use discretion. When you see thing aren't going well, begin to offer them something to calm their problems. Only use this as a last resort, or they will begin to expect free things for every problem they receive. If things are going well, many times it's best to left things un-touched. Maybe a monthly letter to your customers letting them know whatís going on with the business and asking them if there is anything you can do to improve their service. People like to feel a sense of ownership. When they feel like their ideas and their concerns really matter, you will gain a lot of respect from them and they will work with you more. And when problems arise, NEVER give them an exact time or x mins until things are up and operational. They will count that time down and be very unmerciful. Just assure them the technicians are working on the problem and will have things back to normal as quickly as possible.

I hope this can be of some help to everyone out there.